Michael Curzon

News Round-Up

Prepare to Reintroduce Work from Home Guidelines, SAGE Tells Government

SAGE says ministers should be more precise about what could trigger ‘Plan B’ restrictions this winter and believes that telling the public to work from home again is one of the most effective measures it should prepare to reintroduce. The Times has the story.

SAGE noted that only about half the workforce had the option to stay at home but urged ministers to prepare for the “rapid deployment” of new measures if infections continue to surge.

Facemask mandates and vaccination passports are also options but are considered to be less effective.

The advisers have also urged Boris Johnson to decide what circumstances would trigger his ‘Plan B’. “Identifying early warning metrics and triggers for intervening is key to responding rapidly,” they said. …

New modelling from SAGE suggests that hospital admissions are unlikely to hit the peaks seen in January, when 4,000 people a day were admitted. But there are concerns that Covid cases could combine with a nasty flu season to drive hospitals closer to the edge.

“Even if peak [Covid] admission levels remain well below those of January 2021, this could still put health and care settings under significant pressure, particularly if this coincides with high numbers of patients with other respiratory infections,” SAGE advisers have told ministers in the past week.

It echoes past comments made by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, who has said that the Prime Minister must “go hard and go early” with winter restrictions if there is a surge in cases. …

The SAGE documents also include the suggestion that a campaign, coupled with practical and financial support, may be needed to encourage people to stay home if they have cold or flu symptoms, even if they have a negative PCR test for the coronavirus.

The experts are concerned that the pandemic has entered a highly unpredictable phase where small changes in public behaviour, or the effectiveness of vaccines, could have a large impact.

Worth reading in full.

Hospital Appointments in Glasgow Being Cancelled to Reduce Road Traffic during COP26

Hundreds of patients in Glasgow are having face-to-face hospital appointments cancelled or rescheduled ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) which begins next week in the hope that this will help to clear up the roads. The Herald has the story.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it would be increasing the number of virtual consultations and moving some face-to-face consultations to different times of the day in order to accommodate a “temporary increase in population” in the city over the two-week climate summit.

Patients began receiving letters over the past week notifying them of changes to their appointments.

It comes amid warnings that the event itself could trigger a fresh spike in Covid cases, piling preassure on an already overstretched NHS.

Health cheifs at neighbouring NHS Lanarkshire – where the majority of non-urgent elective surgeries have been paused since August – have now escalated its risk status to ‘Black’ and confirmed that a number of cancer procedures will be postponed. These will be rescheduled “as soon as possible”, they said.

One Glasgow patient with long Covid symptoms, who is due to see several specialists, told the Herald their face-to-face appointments had been changed suddenly to telephone consultations after months of waiting. …

[They said] that it was ironic patients were being switched to phone and video appointments to free up roads for climate deligates flying into Scotland who “really should have held their meetings virtually”.

Worth reading in full.

To read more of the article without hitting a paywall, view the cover of today’s Herald here.

More than a Million School Children in England Alone Face Heightened Covid Restrictions

19 months on from the beginning of the pandemic and schools in England are still far from normal. Some have switched to remote learning ahead of the October half-term due to concerns about increasing ‘cases’ and now, 17 local authorities are insisting that stricter measures should be (re)introduced, affecting 1,098,349 pupils at 3,250 schools. The Telegraph has the story.

Councils across the country have reintroduced face masks, bubbles and staggered break times and stepped up self-isolation rules for youngsters. …

Headteachers have been told by ministers that many of the restrictions in place in the last academic year are no longer necessary. However, as cases rise in schools, local public health teams are increasingly encouraging schools to ramp up their measures. …

Nine Maidens Academy, in Cornwall, moved to remote learning at the start of the week, while Admiral Lord Nelson School in Portsmouth closed its doors on Thursday owing to a “rapid” rise in cases.

A dozen councils are advising secondary pupils in their area to wear masks in communal areas at school, and several have introduced more stringent self-isolation rules for children.

This week, Walsall Council advised primary schools to reintroduce bubbles and staggered lunch breaks, and moved all ‘non-essential’ events online. Windsor Council has also told schools to avoid mixing classes or year groups and to cancel assemblies.

Union leaders have repeatedly called for more restrictions in schools, with Kevin Courtney, the Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, claiming the Government’s failure to introduce stricter rules such as face masks is “irresponsible”.

The National Association of Headteachers has urged ministers to bring back rules that would see healthy children kept at home if a sibling tests positive.

But ministers have been warned that parents are “despairing” and their patience with the Government has “worn out”.

Molly Kingsley, a Co-Founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem, said: “Children have been disproportionately burdened by these pandemic restrictions for too long. Now adults are back to normal and the Government ought to be worried about the detrimental impact this is having on children. Parents are really despairing about this.”

Government guidelines say children should only self-isolate if they are showing symptoms or have a positive PCR test result. But councils including Calderdale, Cheshire East and Suffolk have brought back self-isolation rules for children if a sibling or other member of their household has tested positive.

Meanwhile, other councils say children need to self-isolate for three to five days if a family member has Covid, then take a PCR test and only return to school if it is negative. 

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Novak Djokovic Tells Reporters to Back Off on Asking about Vaccination Status: “It’s a Private Matter”

Footballers haven’t been the only sportspeople to be barraged by invasive questions about their Covid vaccination status. Tennis players have received the same treatment, but Novak Djokovic is standing his ground, saying reporters are “taking the liberty” to ask whether he has been jabbed and “judg[ing] a person” for not giving the ‘correct’ answer. RT has the story.

World number one Djokovic has repeatedly expressed his reservations about players being pressured to take a Covid jab, and the reigning Australian Open champion insists his decision is a “private matter” amid a string of controversies surrounding the likes of NBA star Kyrie Irving, who has been left out by the Brooklyn Nets because he is not vaccinated.

Djokovic rival Stefanos Tsitsipas found himself at the center of a political row after he made a wide range of remarks about Covid and vaccines, and the Greek – whose own Government seemed to distance themselves from views which appeared to include a suggestion that spreading the virus could have positive effects – now appears to be willing to be vaccinated.

Russian contender Andrey Rublev has become the latest player to drop their apparent reluctance because of the logistical issues not being vaccinated could cause, but Djokovic is yet to openly say he has had the treatment.

“Things being as they are, I still don’t know if I will go to Melbourne,” Djokovic told Blic, speaking ahead of a first Grand Slam of the year in January which is likely to take place under tight restrictions.

“I will not reveal my status, whether I have been vaccinated or not – it is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry.

“People go too far these days in taking the liberty to ask questions and judge a person.

“Whatever you say – ‘yes, no, maybe, I am thinking about it’ – they will take advantage.”

Daniel Andrews, the Premier of the state of Victoria, has reiterated how difficult it could be for unvaccinated stars to travel to the country, explaining that they may not be allowed in.

“I don’t think an unvaccinated tennis player is going to get a visa to come into this country,” predicted the politician.

“If they did get a visa, they’d probably have to quarantine for a couple of weeks when no other players will have to.

“I don’t think any other tennis player or golfer or Formula One driver will even get a visa to get here.

“Professional sport is part of that authorised worker list and they have to be double-dose vaccinated.”

Worth reading in full.

Travel Firms Charging up to £150 for ‘Cheaper’ Lateral Flow Tests

PCR Covid tests for travel have been scrapped but holidaymakers still face extortionate bills for travel testing, with some providers asking for up to 20 times the price of lateral flow tests in Europe. The Telegraph has the story.

The Government is due to launch a new “bespoke” list of lateral flow test providers… with fully jabbed travellers able to book their swabs ready for their return next week.

However, analysis by the Telegraph of the current firms on the official list that already offer lateral flow swabs show they are charging up to 20 times the price of tests available in Europe.

The Government’s switch from the more expensive PCR tests to cheaper lateral flow swabs for returning travellers is designed to give foreign travel a boost by saving families hundreds of pounds.

But the analysis of existing providers reveals the costs range from £17.99 – offered by 001 Expert Covid Testing U.K. – to £150 by the Private GP Clinic in Sevenoaks, Kent.

At least half a dozen are pitched at £100 or more, although the costs were inflated by offering a bespoke on-site testing service rather than the “click and collect at home” tests the Government has allowed.

A significant number were also priced at £50 or more, compared with all the major European destinations offering lateral flow tests at €30 or less (£25.32). Even the cheapest failed to disclose in their headline price advertised on Gov.uk that packaging and posting will add £10 to the cost.

From Monday, any fully jabbed holidaymaker will be able to use lateral flow tests on their return to the U.K. If they test positive, they can get a free PCR test on the NHS to check their result.

PCR tests have averaged around £70, with the most expensive at £300. It is understood the “bespoke” list for lateral flow tests will include 25 firms specifically authorised to provide them.

Worth reading in full.

Government Considering Cutting Covid Vaccine Booster Wait to Five Months

The length of time people must wait after receiving their second Covid vaccine dose before getting their ‘booster’ could be cut from six months to five, under new plans being drawn up by the Government and its scientific advisers.

This is strange given that more people (almost three-quarters of a million more people) are already becoming eligible each week for a third dose than are actually being ‘jabbed’. Perhaps ministers have some more ‘nudges‘ in mind for those who are unwilling to come forward. The Telegraph has the story.

Proposals to cut the waiting time for a third Covid jab from six months to five are under discussion in Whitehall, with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) understood to be showing interest in the idea.

It would mean the vast majority of over-65s could be vaccinated by early November rather than early December, and all over-70s jabbed now rather than by mid-November.

Boris Johnson indicated support for the change on Thursday, saying it was an “extremely important point” and the programme should move “as fast as possible”.

Analysis by the Telegraph suggests nine million more people could get a booster jab if the change happened now, doubling the number of those eligible.

Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, floated the change on Thursday as a way to boost the number of people who have maximum Covid protection before Christmas. …

The roll-out of Covid booster jabs, which offer people aged over 50 a top-up to their immunity, has been criticised after only half of those eligible have taken up the offer.

There has been discussion inside the Government about changing the definition of ‘fully jabbed’ from two Covid jabs to three for those who are eligible in order to encourage uptake, although no change is expected soon. Mr. Javid said earlier this week that demand and not supply was the problem, adding: “We’ve got the jabs – we just need the arms to put them in.” …

It is understood that Downing Street is open to dropping the six-month delay but will wait for any change in advice from the JCVI. [Not that the body’s advice mattered much when it came to the vaccination of healthy children.]

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: This piece about the vaccine roll-out and its diminishing returns by an anonymous substacker called eugyppius is very good. Worth bearing in mind that if the Government has its way anonymous accounts like this would probably be unlawful.

News Round-Up

  • Covid attitudes have shifted” – New polling published in the Sunday Times suggetsts the number of people who want the Government to limit the spread of the virus at all costs has fallen while the public desire to protect the economy (even if it means ‘more virus’) has become more prominent.

Government Officials Continue to Tell Half the Story on Covid Statistics

The U.K. Statistics Authority says it is concerned by the misrepresentation of Covid data by the Government and its head, Sir David Norgrove, points out that “we’ve intervened more during the pandemic and made more comments than in the years before”. It is, of course, expected that mistakes are to be made on occasion, but it’s concerning that time and again these mistakes are being repeated, and with damaging consequences. The Telegraph has published a good piece on this.

“With statistics, it’s usually cock-up rather than conspiracy,” [Sir David] added. “They are under pressure and they get themselves into a hole and we have to help dig them out.”

Yet despite this, nothing seems to be changing.

At a press conference from Downing Street on Wednesday evening, Dr. Jenny Harries, the Chief Executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, took the public through slides showing that there were currently 7,891 people in hospital with Covid in the U.K.

What she failed to mention is that this figure does not only include people admitted with Covid, but also those who test positive for coronavirus while in hospital for another condition.

Hospitals were instructed to distinguish between the two groups earlier this year, but so far it has not filtered down into the official figures.

In fact it is only possible to find the data by scrolling to the very bottom of the “Hospital Activity” page of the NHS website. Even then, the figures are woefully out of date.

At the most recent count for England on October 12th, 26% of the overall cases were not primarily Covid.

If that was extrapolated to Dr. Harries’ British data, it would mean that more than 2,000 people included in the Government’s press conference figure are actually in hospital for other causes.

A similar problem can be seen in the daily reported death figures published on the Government’s coronavirus dashboard. On Tuesday, many experts seized on 223 reported deaths to argue that Britain should enact ‘Plan B’ restrictions.

But the reported death data does tend to jump around depending on the day of the week and reflects deaths over several days. Look at the figures by “date of death”, and it is clear to see the situation is largely plateauing.

Dr. Jason Oke, a senior statistician at the University of Oxford, pointed this out earlier this week, saying: “As we have said right from the beginning, we need to focus on deaths by date of occurrence, not deaths by date reported. 

“Reporting Tuesday’s numbers – always the highest – in isolation, tends to exaggerate things, and gives no indication of current trends, which has if anything been slowly falling through September and October, [and] no guarantee of future trends of course.”

Regular readers of the Daily Sceptic won’t be surprised by this report on the misrepresentation of data, especially given our in-house doctor’s repeated highlighting of “a remarkable consistency in [officials] grossly overestimating the numbers of Covid hospital admissions“, and more – but the Telegraph story is still worth reading in full.